A New Beginning for Departing Big Green Coach

Valley News Sports Editor
Saturday, January 06, 2018

Hanover — When a former Dartmouth College colleague needed a young assistant soccer coach years ago, Bobby Clark suggested Chad Riley. When an NCAA Division I coaching peer did the same thing a year later, Clark suggested Riley.

When Clark, the former Dartmouth men’s soccer coach in the midst of a 17-year run at Notre Dame, needed a young assistant on his staff, Clark tapped Riley. So it’s no shock, any more than it is that Riley is leaving Hanover for the Fighting Irish, that Clark is thrilled Riley is assuming the reins of his program.

Notre Dame announced Riley as its new men’s soccer coach on Friday, replacing the recently retired Clark. Riley played four years in South Bend, then coached with Clark for six before moving to Dartmouth. After a year assisting Jeff Cook, Riley began a five-year run as a first-time head coach and succeeded in a big way with the Big Green, with four straight Ivy League championships and four straight runs to the NCAA tournament second round.

“I think, with my wife, that we’ve always dreamed of going home,” Riley said in a phone interview on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me, when I told Bobby quickly after he retired. I felt sad at first; I felt very lucky that the coach I played for was still there, the one person when you visit campus who’s still there. It was a little sad to see him go. Now I’m going to have the same (office) phone number.”

Notre Dame reached out to Dartmouth to pursue Riley last month, not long after Clark retired from a three-decade run as a college soccer coach. Riley said he accepted his alma mater’s job offer between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“For me, it’s pretty special,” Clark said in a Saturday phone interview from Indiana. “It’s funny to think that, 17 years ago this month, I met the team for the first team, and Chad was a freshman on that team. I remember his senior spring, when his playing eligibility was up, he came to practices. He would be out at every practice. He was always very, very enthusiastic.”

Riley is a 2004 Notre Dame graduate and, as a midfielder, remains No. 2 on the program’s all-time assists list. His wife, Caitlin, was raised in South Bend and also is a Notre Dame alumna. The Rileys have two children, daughter Georgina and son Prescott.

Riley called the pull of family the deciding factor in choosing to leave.

“It’s something we’ve thought about,” Riley said. “We’ve loved our time in Hanover. Our kids were born here. We’ve enjoyed it, but when we got (to South Bend), we realized it would be a real opportunity. We were quite excited about it, and that’s when it became a no-brainer. …

“(Dartmouth) was tremendous and made us feel wanted. The trump card was going back to my wife’s hometown and getting the kids to grow up around their grandparents.”

Riley has impressed Clark beyond those senior spring practices in Indiana, enough that the former Scottish international has frequently helped boost Riley’s career.

Former Dartmouth track coach Vin Lananna, as athletic director at Ohio’s Oberlin College, gave Riley his coaching start on Clark’s recommendation 13 years ago. A move to St. John’s followed a year later, as did a return to Notre Dame as an assistant coach in 2006.

“To be honest with you,” Clark recalled, “When I was looking for a young coach, the first call I made was to Chad. He did an excellent job here.”

Promoted at Dartmouth when Cook left for an academy job with MLS’ Philadelphia Union in 2013, Riley went 51-26-14 with the Big Green, earning Ivy League coach of the year honors three times. He takes over a Notre Dame program that recorded an 11-7-2 record last fall and, like the Big Green, bowed out in the NCAA second round.

“With Coach Clark, we’ll have a strong foundation,” Riley said. “They’ll love the game. I lose key guys at goalkeeper, center back and forward, and we’ll have to figure that out quickly. It’s the same challenge of someone coming in and figuring out the way it evolves.”

Dartmouth faces the same issues, but it can also recruit its next candidate from a coaching history — going back to Clark’s eight-year run in Hanover in the 1980s and ’90s — that schools don’t often enjoy, if it chooses to do so. At least two former Big Green players, Georgetown’s Brian Wiese and Wesleyan’s Geoff Wheeler, hold down head soccer coaching jobs. Clark’s youngest son, Jamie, graduated from Hanover High, coached at Harvard and has been successful at Washington. Other former Dartmouth players hold down assistant’s jobs as Riley once did at Notre Dame.

Riley said he didn’t necessarily plan on going home. But he’s happy it turned out that way.

“If anything, I’ve sort of daydreamed about it,” he said. “It’s a special place for me and my wife, but as far as planning, the best planning is to be good at where you’re at. I know that will help you stay where you are.

“We rarely get to leave on our own volition. But I’d be lying if I said there had been any plan.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.